Bangkok- The Thailand Journey Begins
Before we departed for our 6 month journey we were commonly asked what we were most excited for. Steph’s answer was always New Zealand and for me it was Thailand. Between hearing people's stories of the different islands, the amazing food culture and the beautiful beaches, I was thrilled that we’d be spending over a month in Thailand when all was said and done. We departed Bali and had a short layover in Singapore. We had read that the Singapore airport is consistently ranked as one the best airports in the world so we wanted to take some time to explore during our couple of hours there. There were multiple gardens, hotel pools accessible from the terminal, a movie theater and more throughout the airport. Definitely not the worst place to be stuck if you miss your connection. Luckily though we did not miss our flight and we arrived to Bangkok later that evening. We were lucky that Steph’s mom had stayed in touch with a friend from college who has lived in Bangkok for over 15 years. Karen is a journalist and was gracious enough to let us stay with her for almost a week. It was an awesome apartment with a pool, near a food market and great A/C for those 100+ degree days.
Bangkok is one of those places on the traveler’s itinerary that gets mixed reviews. Some people we’ve come across enjoy it for its city feel and nightlife options, others shared with us they want to get in and out and view it more as a necessary evil to pass through on their way to the Thai Islands or Cambodia. I was excited because I like cities but during April in Thailand, we found out there is only so much one can do during the day.
Our first full day we wanted to go see the Grand Palace, which has several different temples and is also where the Kings of Siam have lived since 1782, although the King does not reside there today. It was a Hindu holiday that day and we thought the grounds may be quieter than normal but the place was jam packed with tourists of all kinds, especially many of the Chinese variety carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, but an alternate use was doing a great job of nearly poking everyone's eye out. I didn't realize I was supposed to pack Rec-Specs for my travels. None the less we get to the ticket office to learn that part of the palace is closed today due to the holiday but the tickets prices, which aren’t cheap compared to almost everything else in Thailand, are the same as usual. We decided to bail on the Grand Palace knowing we had the luxury of being in Bangkok for six days and we could come back.
Luckily we had a pretty great mapped out plan for a few days in Bangkok thanks to our new friends the Rosenfield’s who write a travel blog called The Stave Dairies. Dave and Stef have lived in Bangkok for over three years teaching English after living in Chicago and NYC. Truth be told, we have never actually met as we were put in touch via our mutual friend Lindsay, but the “Staves” have been nothing but helpful over email and their blog has given us so many tips that have helped us along the way. So using their “3 days in Bangkok” guide we headed to more temples on our list. We made our way to Wat Pho and checked out the reclining Buddha which was far and away the largest Buddha we have come across. Wat Pho is one of Bangkok's oldest temples, in fact it existed before Bangkok was even named the capital city. The reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 46 m long and really impressive. The Buddhas’always seem to be smiling at you a bit, maybe that’s just me.
Unfortunately, this whole time I was battling a stomach bug that seemed to originate from the last day in Bali. It was such a bitch, just looking at all the delicious street food and fruit shakes, things I’d been salivating over for months now, knowing I couldn't have them quite yet. I’m not one to exercise self-control when it comes to food so this was a real battle of mind versus stomach. Stomach was winning so between this and the heat we decided to head back to Karen’s and lay low the rest of the evening. We hung by the pool and Steph and Karen went to an amazing flower market that stretched over many streets.
The next day we headed back to the Grand Palace and saw the entire tour. It was pretty spectacular and we were happy we decided to wait for the entire version. It was mind blowing the amount of wealth that went into the construction of the palace and temples. Everything was decked out in gold, gem stones, and very shiny. It was worth waiting to see the famous Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is actually made of jade.
From here we took a quick ferry across the water to Wat Arun. Luckily we explored all the grounds because at first we saw a few temples and thought we’d hit up the whole thing. After wandering a bit more, we realized we almost missed the temple that has a couple flights of stairs that look out over the whole grounds and out towards the city over the river. By this time, we were templed out and mentally and physically beaten down by the heat. Thank goodness for Karen’s pool, it was a godsend. We headed back there to cool off and recharge.
I was feeling better and wasn’t about to spend another night in. It was time to put fun to the forefront and push mind over stomach! We headed to Chinatown which we’ve been told is the best Chinatown in the world. We’ve been to Chicago’s, NYC’s, San Fran’s and Sydney’s which all have something to offer. With that being said, I can’t argue that Bangkok’s Chinatown should be mentioned as up there with the very best. There is a main strip that goes for blocks with billboards lit up like Vegas, hotels, restaurants and food carts. Off of this main strip are side streets that have more and more food options. Sometimes they split into cuisines such as some were BBQ meat heavy while others focused on seafood. We bounced around and tried a few small things from a bunch of different vendors. After a pork and noodle soup, oyster omelet, chicken and rice, along with a meat stick we had a good base to head off to Khao San Road to explore the famous backpacker scene.
Khao San Road is a great mix of eclectic people from all over, mostly backpackers but also travelers who just want to have cheap drinks and be around a fun vibe. Buckets are the big thing in Thailand, for between $150 -$300 baht depending on your alcohol, you get a ton of booze mixed with either soda and red bull, or made into a cocktail such as a mojito. All you need is a couple of these and the night is rolling. We passed on eating scorpions on a stick and the laughing gas being sold at a bar; I know not as fun as I once was. Instead we opted for $7 massages on the street, mine being a foot massage and Stephanie a shoulders and neck. One more bucket because why not, and we headed home after a successful first true night out in Bangkok.
The next day we decided we would hit up the huge malls we had heard so much about in the Siam area. Neither Steph and I are much of shoppers at home and definitely don't have excess room in our packs, but we were told they were worth exploring, many had great food courts and all blasted the A/C. They were definitely impressive, some over five levels high, ranging from your standard mall stores (H&M) to car dealerships where Maserati’s and Lamborghinis were out in the showroom. Steph did manage to find a swimsuit and we had a great lunch, one oyster omelet (Steph’s new fave) and a duck noodle soup.
Later that night we joined Karen at the foreign correspondent’s club in Bangkok. Apparently the place typically gets quite busy on Friday’s where journalists from all over the world gather to shoot the shit and catch up with old and new friends alike. It was a bit slower this night as Songkran was coming up the next week and many people get out of town to avoid the craziness. But there was a nice 3-piece band and we sat with Karen and a few of her friends. One of the friends was a very accomplished journalist who covered the Vietnam War in Vietnam during the war for England and had been a Reuters Bureau Chief in multiple locations all over the world. It was great to hear stories from him and his wife and discuss journalism both old and new. After a few Beer Laos, we said our goodbyes in order to explore the Sukhumvit area. This is another area of Bangkok well known for its nightlife. Streets are named Soi, and different side streets off of Sukhimvit are named Soi 38 or Soi 11 for example and each has its own vibe. We headed towards Soi 11 and found a tasty looking Mexican place, we needed a break from all the noodles, rice and spring rolls we’d been eating on a consistent basis. The food and margaritas were good but overpriced, we are just so used to paying $12 for two plates of food and a starter at this point! One more drink, where Steph took a picture of her favorite sign so far and we headed home.
We had managed to knock out most of our big to-do’s but there was one last big thing we were told was a must in Bangkok if you were there on a weekend. We took their above ground subway and made out way to JJ’s market, a market unlike anything we have ever seen. We got turned around so many times and felt like we were lost but in actuality was just in a different section of the thousands of different things being sold at this market. The majority of it is outside but there is an indoor section as well selling mainly food items. The outside ranges from food, to art, furniture, it’s basically an outdoors Costco, Thailand style. There is even a huge animal section ranging from dogs and cats, to sharks, elaborate fish, birds, lizards and more. At first Steph got all excited at all the animals then kind of realized the situation and just said, PETA would not be pleased.
That evening we decided we had enjoyed our Chinatown/Khao San Road combo so much we wanted to do it again. This time we chose one of the street restaurants that was more seafood heavy we had some morning glory, salt and pepper crab, and Tom Yam soup. Everything was really tasty and luckily didn't break any teeth on the crab shells. (I’d already been to a dentist once in Bangkok, didn't need a return visit) From here we headed back to Khao San, picked a different place to drink our buckets and enjoyed the scene. Maybe it was because it was a Saturday or maybe it was just a different group of travelers out, but there seemed to be more dancing and it was a fun vibe. We decided to have one more drink but wanted to check out the street behind Khao San to see if there was any live music. We made our way over and settled at a seat when I realized the guy behind me was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals hat. We started chatting and he invited us to sit with him and his friends. Turns out he grew up just outside STL and is now living in Thailand and teaching English. One more drink turned into a few more, we saw a pretty epic breakdancing show in the street and caught a cab home.
Lazy Sunday! Our final full day in Bangkok was spent hungover and hot, which was probably for the best because we needed to get ourselves in order before heading to the Thai Islands for almost three weeks. Karen showed us her favorite spots at the market by her house and we had some epic wing bean salad, papaya salad and rotisserie chicken with garlic. After a nice pool day, Steph and I went to the flower market she had been to days earlier. It really was pretty impressive and we found a great street vendor there for a delicious dinner of noodle soup and chicken and rice. All in all, Bangkok was a fun experience. We were thankful to have had Karen and her hospitality and the Staves for their guide to a large and bustling city. It was time to escape the city and hit the islands for Songkran and Steph’s birthday!